English Standard Version
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
King James Bible
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
American Standard Version
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.
Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes, and all things are vanity.
English Revised Version
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.
Webster's Bible Translation
Vanity of vanities saith the preacher; all is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 12:8 Parallel
CommentaryKeil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
"Ere the sun becomes dark, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain." Umbreit, Elster, and Ginsburg find here the thought: ere death overtakes thee; the figure under which the approach of death is described being that of a gathering storm. But apart from other objections (vid., Gurlitt, "zur Erlk. d. B. Koheleth," in Sutd. u. Krit. 1865), this idea is opposed by the consideration that the author seeks to describe how man, having become old, goes forth (חלך, Ecclesiastes 12:5) to death, and that not till Ecclesiastes 12:7 does he reach it. Also Taylor's view, that what precedes Ecclesiastes 12:5 is as a dirge expressing the feelings experienced on the day of a person's death, is untenable; it is discredited already by this, that it confuses together the days of evil, Ecclesiastes 12:1, and the many days of darkness, i.e., the long night of Hades, Ecclesiastes 11:8; and besides, it leaves unanswered the question, what is the meaning of the clouds returning after the rain. Hahn replies: The rain is death, and the return is the entrance again into the nothingness which went before the entrance into this life. Knobel, as already Luther and also Winzer (who had made the exposition of the Book of Koheleth one of the labours of his life), sees in the darkening of the sun, etc., a figure of the decay of hitherto joyful prosperity; and in the clouds after the rain a figure of the cloudy days of sorrow which always anew visit those who are worn out by old age. Hitz., Ewald, Vaih., Zckl., and Tyler, proceeding from thence, find the unity of the separate features of the figure in the comparison of advanced old age, as the winter of life to the rainy winter of the (Palestinian) year. That is right. But since in the sequel obviously the marasmus senilis of the separate parts of the body is set forth in allegorical enigmatic figures, it is asked whether this allegorical figurative discourse does not probably commence in Ecclesiastes 12:2. Certainly the sun, moon, and stars occur also in such pictures of the night of judgment, obscuring all the lights of the heavens, as at Isaiah 13:10; but that here, where the author thus ranks together in immediate sequence והךּ ... השּׁ, and as he joins the stars with the moon, so the light with the sun, he has not connected the idea of certain corresponding things in the nature and life of man with these four emblems of light, is yet very improbable. Even though it might be impossible to find out that which is represented, yet this would be no decisive argument against the significance of the figures; the canzones in Dante's Convito, which he there himself interprets, are an example that the allegorical meaning which a poet attaches to his poetry may be present even where it cannot be easily understood or can only be conjectured.
The attempts at interpreting these figures have certainly been wholly or for the most part unfortunate. We satisfy ourselves by registering only the oldest: their glosses are in matter tasteless, but they are at least of linguistic interest. A Barajtha, Shabbath 151-152a, seeking to interpret this closing picture of the Book of Koheleth, says of the sun and the light: "this is the brow and the nose;" of the moon: "this is the soul;" of the stars: "this the cheeks." Similarly, but varying a little, the Midrash to Lev. c. 18 and to Koheleth: the sun equals the brightness of the countenance; light equals the brow; the moon equals the nose; the stars equals the upper part of the cheeks (which in an old man fall in). Otherwise, but following the Midrash more than the Talmud, the Targum: the sun equals the stately brightness of thy countenance; light equals the light of thine eyes; the moon equals the ornament of thy cheeks; the stars equals the apple of thine eye. All the three understand the rain of wine (Talm. בכי), and the clouds of the veil of the eyes (Targ.: "thy eye-lashes"), but without doing justice to אחר שׁוב; only one repulsive interpretation in the Midrash takes these words into account. In all these interpretations there is only one grain of truth, this, viz., that the moon in the Talm. is interpreted of the נשׁמה, anima, for which the more correct word would have been נפשׁ; but it has been shown, Psychol. p. 154, that the Jewish, like the Arab. psychology, reverses terminologically the relation between רוח (נשׁמה), spirit, and נפשׁ, soul.
The older Christian interpretations are also on the right track. Glassius (as also v. Meyer and Smith in "The portraiture of old age") sees in the sun, light, etc., emblems of the interna microcosmi lumina mentis; and yet better, Chr. Friedr. Bauer (1732) sees in Ecclesiastes 12:2 a representation of the thought: "ere understanding and sense fail thee." We have elsewhere shown that חיים רוח (נשׁמת) and חיּה נפשׁ (from which nowhere חיים נפשׁ) are related to each other as the principium principians and principium principatum of life (Psychol. p. 79), and as the root distinctions of the male and female, of the predominantly active and the receptive (Psychol. p. 103). Thus the figurative language of Ecclesiastes 12:3 is interpreted in the following manner. The sun is the male spirit רוח (which, like שׁמשׁ, is used in both genders) or נשׁמה, after Proverbs 20:27, a light of Jahve which penetrates with its light of self-examination and self-knowledge the innermost being of man, called by the Lord, Matthew 6:23 (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11), "the light that is in thee." The light, viz., the clear light of day proceeding from the sun, is the activity of the spirit in its unweakened intensity: sharp apprehension, clear thought, faithful and serviceable memory. The moon is the soul; for, according to the Heb. idea, the moon, whether it is called ירח or לבנה is also in relation to the sun a figure of the female (cf. Genesis 37:9., where the sun in Joseph's dream equals Jacob-Israel, the moon equals Rachel); and that the soul, viz., the animal soul, by means of which the spirit becomes the principle of the life of the body (Genesis 2:7), is related to the spirit as female σκεῦος ἀστηενέστερον, is evident from passages such as Psalm 42:6, where the spirit supports the soul (animus animam) with its consolation. And the stars? We are permitted to suppose in the author of the book of Koheleth a knowledge, as Schrader
(Note: Vid., "Sterne" in Schenkel's Bibl Lex. and Stud. u. Krit. 1874.)
has shown, of the old Babyl.-Assyr. seven astral gods, which consisted of the sun, moon, and the five planets; and thus it will not be too much to understand the stars, as representing the five planets, of the five senses (Mish. הרגּשׁות,
(Note: Thus the five senses are called, e.g., Bamidbar rabba, c. 14.)
later הוּשׁים, cf. the verb, Ecclesiastes 2:25) which mediate the receptive relation of the soul to the outer world (Psychol. p. 233). But we cannot see our way further to explain Ecclesiastes 12:2 patholo.-anatom., as Geier is disposed to do: Nonnulli haec accommodant ad crassos illos ac pituosos senum vapores ex debili ventriculo in cerebrum adscendentes continuo, ubi itidem imbres (נשׁם) h.e. destillationes creberrimae per oculos lippientes, per nares guttatim fluentes, per os subinde excreans cet., quae sane defluxiones, tussis ac catharri in juvenibus non ita sunt frequentia, quippe ubi calor multo adhuc fortior, consumens dissipansque humores. It is enough to understand עבים of cases of sickness and attacks of weakness which disturb the power of thought, obscure the consciousness, darken the mind, and which ahhar haggěshěm, after they have once overtaken him and then have ceased, quickly again return without permitting him long to experience health. A cloudy day is equals a day of misfortune, Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:15; an overflowing rain is a scourge of God, Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; and one visited by misfortune after misfortune complains, Psalm 42:7 : "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me."
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
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